The first time I watched All Creatures Great and Small, my mom and I were on soft chairs surrounded by bric-a-brac watching a 6″ B&W TV as dad sat playing solitaire in the next room with Five Star Canadian Rye Whisky. It was a thing to do. They seemed like nice stories, like Walt Disney.
The next time I watch it with future-hubby in an upper story apartment on a huge honking colour tv in a fake woodgrain TV cabinet. Our collective possessions at that point could probably fit into a few boxes. It was homey.
This time hubby and I watch it in our own bed on YouTube on an iPad with the borrowed cat nested nearby. Something shifted in my brain. It seems sharp-witted, fish out of water for the new vet who is remarkably good natured.
It’s 13 Thursday time.
- It’s a story where 3 men talk. Women don’t meet one another. So far Bechdel Test fail.
- The woman who talks the most is eccentric, old, super rich and mad. She has letter correspondence with dogs, is surrounded by servants who dislike her and actively undermine her, friends who will show up for a party to greet her dog home for the free champagne and expensive foods. It’s sharply satirical.
- The poor are rogues. Refuse to give medicine to their animals. Mock the vets at any chance. Are preposterously ignorant and superstitious about remedies and opposed to learning and science and the upper class backs that bring it. It seems pitched to reinforce the basic goodness of middle class (the viewers) as right.
- The clients are also good-hearted, perhaps like farmers anywhere, don’t want to attach to animals they’ll eat, but live with them, see them suffer and thrive and can’t help with attach but don’t admit it. The vets see thru the smoke-screen and keep up the macho appearances.
- Siegfried seems not just bored and needing to manufacture excitement, not only too proud to admit he is wrong and full of vivacious mood swings. He seems more bipolar with his grandiose turns.
- And then there’s his secretary. She was chosen for being matronly, older, thus no risk for Tristan who is an uncontrollable skirt-chaser and wouldn’t be able to help himself. Because men have no capacity to self regulate and women are the evil to tempt men doncha know. Unless the women’re old in which case they’re repulsive. Is that the argument? Gah. I wish that were more dated.
- And then there’s Siegfried’s blustering explosion in Episode 3 where he then gets very quiet and turns to the secretary. She winces and pulls back as if she expects to be beaten. He makes a quick intimidating gesture over her seated figure then only rains torn paper on her. We are to take it as humour because he doesn’t and he’s a good guy and it was like the play fear of swinging a child around but meaning no harm. Yes? What life do we imply she has lived?
- Then there’s Siegfried’s desire to bully his brother and get vengeance on him for being an alcoholic. All 3 boys are playing tricks on each other as part of their rough-housing amuse themselves life. I suppose that creates the convenience of suspense and small plot arcs for stickiness. If everyone were kind and we waited to see touching surprise parties, would that hook?
- The roles of women may reflect what women in rural areas did in the 1940s but it presented as idyllic. It’s not presented in the time. It’s presented later. Much like 300 and a spate of movies about war in ancient Greece came while the U.S. was in high-war-mongering mode. Pump up the enforcement of modelled worlds.
- The women cooked, were housekeepers. Mrs. Hall was appreciated but clearly servant not colleague. And there was the housekeeper whose husband died of the food she cooked. Unable to do the one role she was permitted to do and killing her husband of being unable to tell she was serving carbon. That’s the laugh track. Rather dismissive. Or was she aware and wanting to torment them with false innocence? Still, a rather dark tension.
- Little sign that women were employed in the cash economy, even though it was the war, and wasn’t that when they worked most in that half of the century?
- Then there’s the matter that vets can doff their shirts and it be neutral. A matter of course for a him to go shoulder-deep into an animal. Why is it that female skin should be so obscene when male skin is not deemed provocative? (Why still do men have freedom to wander around in short shorts in a park when women must cover particular bits of skin or be considered causing attention? Or if they bare skin are causing attention? Absurd.) Wish the vet were female and uncensored allowed to do practical things like look after cows or to regulate her body heat in the same way without a fuss. Some guys in the park would fit into a B cup but as reaction to FEMEN Sextremists show, nipples still are horribly frightening if there’s fatty tissue behind them *and* presumption of no penis down below. Whether in the East or West. Old-fashioned social decrees that those are for flirt and secretly feeding babies only. Moving on.
- Is it because James was trained in Edinburgh that he isn’t aware of customs in the backwaters that he would plunge after Helen as she walks around at chores, engaging in conversation as if that were a normal thing for two humans to do? Or is that keying him as an ingenue? He has to be prompted to notice the male owners of Helen glowering in the shadows of the wall watching that no un-chaparoned things happen to the sister/daughter. he can come to the whole family breakfast if he likes, but no one-on-one time with females. One-on-one time with menfolk is natural of course.
Perhaps a time-capsule of a time and place. Some art should be artifact of the past. Some should be trying to model what could be if we put a little effort in it.
I was thinking about the designation of family washrooms and both-gender washrooms as a 3rd setup. If people were just indiscriminate about their toilets and decided en masse, that nonsense has had its day, we could just move on.
All that is not to say the show isn’t fascinating. There’s a deft hand for people reading one another and much is left the the image that other writers would write out in dialogue to bang the foam baton over the head of the viewer. The people have acceptance and affection for one another and are rich, complex, developing characters which puts it far ahead of most fare.
Quote: “Women were always considered sufficiently clean to beg, work and give generously for the building and decoration of churches, and the support of the priesthood. They might always serve as inferiors, but never receive as equals.[...]
As usual in our own day the Jewish women were allowed to give generously, work untiringly and beg eloquently to build altars and Tabernacles to the Lord, to embroider slippers and make flowing robes for the priesthood, but they could not enter the holy of holies or take any active part, in the services.” ~ Elizabeth Cady Stanton, commentary on Exodus xxxvi in The Women’s Bible, 1898